游子 The Wanderers

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This work explores the lives of Chinese international students at The University of Sheffield. More than 4000 mainland Chinese students are registered here, which along with those at Sheffield Hallam University, and enrolled in language schools, make up the largest group of international students in the city.

This number has more than quadrupled in recent years, and like many British university cities, Sheffield has begun to cater for demand with new restaurants, karaoke bars and Asian food stores opening. Mandarin can be heard spoken on the streets more than Cantonese, and on restaurant menus, simplified Chinese characters have replaced traditional ones (used by earlier migrants from Hong Kong and southern China).

China’s huge population makes competition for university places and graduate employment at home even tougher; studying abroad can offer new perspectives and the chance to develop fluency in English, a much sought-after trait in the job market. The rise of the middle classes and resulting economic freedoms mean that many more families can support a child through overseas study. The opportunity is encouraged by parents who themselves were denied a university education and prevented from travelling abroad during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s.

This work aims to offer personal insights to this recent phenomenon, to demonstrate the varied lives of young Chinese people in our city. 游子 was a collaboration between myself, a researcher at The University of Sheffield and Chinese students. For more information see www.youziproject.com

*游子 (youzi) translates as ‘wanderer’ and is from a well-known poem, Youzi Yin (Song of the Wanderer), written in the Tang Dynasty by Meng Jiao. The poem speaks of the bond between a mother and her son, who leaves home to work far away.